Joshua Bruner, Physical Therapist, Southwest Health
Just because the winter season is here again doesn’t mean you need to hang up your workout shoes just yet! A snow and wind forecast doesn’t have to limit your activity level! You can still maintain an active lifestyle despite the cold by participating in great winter activities. Read on for a simple for staying active and safe while exercising during the winter season.
Exercise is good for you any time of the year because it helps improve overall health. However, staying active may be even more critical during the winter. Participating in exercise most days of the week can help boost your immune system needed to fight off or prevent a cold or flu commonly seen this time of the year. Exercise has even been shown to improve vitamin D levels which is necessary during the winter due to limited sun exposure. Participating in outdoor activities is a great way to take in sunlight, improve vitamin D levels, and boost overall mood. The winter months can be long and dreary sometimes, so take advantage of the days when the sun is out. The colder weather could also make breathing easier when exercising outside due to less humidity in the air. Therefore, vigorous exercise may actually be more tolerable in colder weather.
There are a variety of indoor and outdoor activities an individual can choose from to maintain an active lifestyle during these colder months. Your choice of exercise should be based on your interests, accessibility to equipment or a location, and making sure it’s something you will enjoy. Picking an activity you will actually look forward to doing is key to staying consistent throughout the winter. The following is a list of outdoor and indoor activities often used during the winter season:
- Water Aerobics
- Cycling Classes
- Yoga/Zumba Classes
- Rock Climbing
- Walking in Stores
- Home Workouts
- Cross Country Skiing
- Brisk Walking
- Ice Skating
If exercising outdoors, wear adequate layers of clothing to stay warm. Your head, hands, and feet should always be covered to avoid the risk of hypothermia or frostbite. Below are signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite that should be monitored throughout your activity if exercising outside. Also, if exercising with a friend, keep an eye on them as well.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
- Feeling tired or sleepy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow breathing
- Weak pulse
Signs and Symptoms of Frostbite
- White or grayish-yellow skin
- Skin feels unusually hard or waxy
- Possible blistering
- Very cold skin
Certain safety precautions should be taken before participating in winter activities. Individuals with health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, Raynaud’s disease (extreme numbness and feeling of coldness in the hands and feet), etc., should receive approval from a physician prior to participating in more vigorous activities outdoors. Appropriate footwear should also be considered when participating in activities that involve being outside. Wear shoes with the appropriate support and grip needed for slippery surfaces. Additional grip, such as ice cleats, can be added to the bottom of the shoes to give extra traction for icy conditions.
Always monitor the weather for extreme cold and high winds due to the risk of wind chill. Extreme gusts of wind can cause temperatures to drop dramatically and increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Temperature around or above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) is a more optimal level to exercise outdoors, so make sure to check the weather regularly. Also, don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids. Oftentimes, people forget to drink adequate fluids when exercising in the winter due to not having excessive sweating often seen in the summer. Dehydration is difficult to notice in colder weather but can still have significant side effects if fluids are not retained after a workout.
The winter season can feel very long, so make sure to find an activity you like to help make the season more enjoyable. Inactivity for an extended period of time can actually be detrimental to an individual and lead to medical issues. Therefore, don’t allow the winter months to be a setback on your health and prevent you from enjoying activities you love during the warm summer months!